Book review: Unearthing Justice by Joan Kuyek

A handbook to fight corporate power, archaic laws, and lax regulation and enforcement

Review by Maggie Paquet

Detail from the cover of Unearthing Justice: How to protect your community from the mining industry by Joan Kuyek


Unearthing Justice: How to Protect Your Community from the Mining Industry | by Joan Kuyek
Between the Lines Books
Paperback $26.95
272 pages plus endnotes and index
ISBN 978-1-77113-451-4

The mining industry, wherever it sets its sights, is a law unto itself. It weights the scales of justice in its own favour, assisted in every jurisdiction by government agencies. They say “justice is blind,” but when it comes to the mining industry vs justice for communities, it is frequently also deaf and dumb, in large part because of a combination of archaic mining laws and inadequate environmental assessment, regulation, and enforcement regimes.

The heart of this book is community; the place where we breathe, get our water, grow-hunt-forage for our food, where we work and play – in short, where we all live, whether rural or urban, or on traditional Indigenous lands. The goal is to achieve justice for the people, the land, the community.

From initial exploration activities through a mine’s operations, closure, and reclamation activities, the effects of mining on communities in Canada and around the world are explained by Dr. Kuyek in clear detail and with ample case studies. She describes the social, political, legal, and financial effects of mining on society. Equally important, she discusses how mining affects human and ecosystem health and cultural cohesion, and gives clear information on what communities can do given their specific locations, situations, and capacity to attain the justice they seek.

The book’s foreword, written by John Cutfeet of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Nation in northwestern Ontario, encapsulates the need for a greater understanding of mining and how taking minerals from the earth and exposing them to the common air and waters affects communities, and the deep social and cultural impacts mining creates.

In many respects, the mining industry is a global juggernaut. To take it on to protect your community and achieve some level of justice requires a wide range of knowledge and expertise. In its five parts, this book examines every aspect of mining that you will need to understand to successfully protect your community from the often predatory behaviours of the mining industry. The orderly progression of information presented allows readers to devise the best strategy for their particular fight.

Part I: What mining looks like provides information on the basics of why a mine may occur in a given area. It details the mining sequence: staking a claim, exploration, feasibility studies, environmental assessments, permitting, construction, development, operation, closure, and “perpetual care” after closure or abandonment. Further, it describes the kinds of environmental impacts to water, air, and soil as part of the physical footprint of a mine, including acid mine drainage, effects on living things, types of toxicity, and methods of dealing with tailings. It’s the kind of information that communities need to know in order to better understand how a mine may affect them.

Part II: What it costs discusses the social costs of mining: displacement or dispossession of Indigenous peoples, social impacts on people living in (often remote) mining communities (including impacts during exploration, on Indigenous women due to transient, mostly male workers), and impacts continuing after a mine closes. It discusses how mining is still, essentially, a colonial activity in Indigenous communities. It details the critical issue of capacity related to staff, time, expertise, and money; and it discusses occupational health and safety, mine closure, rehabilitation, and abandonment, in short, the knowledge and capacity communities need to have in order to successfully respond to companies and/or government agencies and negotiate justice for their people.

Part III: Profits from loss: industry structure, financing, and international presence describes how exploration and mining companies are structured and financed; how mining is supported by government; how financial markets work; public funding of mining projects; and the global presence of Canadian mining, how “In many cases, Canada is just a ‘flag of convenience’ for mining companies that are essentially controlled by investors and creditors from all over the world.”

Part IV: Justice or just us? Regulation and enforcement focuses on the role of government and the influence of the powerful mining lobby on laws and regulations, taxation (an important policy tool that supports the mining industry), and how the industry has “taken control of the conversation” and presents itself as having “sustainability” as its goal. The concept of “social licence” in relation to ecological economics and “external” costs is also discussed: What minerals do we really need? What can we get by recycling? What are the true costs of coal, gold, diamonds, etc.? “Corporate Social Responsibility” or CSR, is described, in many respects as a rationale for the industry to voluntarily police itself (or, letting the fox guard the henhouse). This part also has a chapter on uranium mining, the effects of which I can’t find the words to describe in this short space.

Part V: How to put mining in its place. There are seven chapters in this final part that describe the steps and strategies needed to overcome the onslaught to justice that the mining industry can embody in its relationship with any given community. It deals with how the industry undermines a variety of federal (e.g., Fisheries Act) and provincial laws and the responses by which individuals, communities, and organizations fight back.

Case studies – such as the story of Taseko’s Prosperity and New Prosperity mines, the Mt. Polley tailings dam disaster, the Giant mine, Yukon’s Faro mine, and others – are presented that show why and how organizations like West Coast Environmental Law and MiningWatch Canada – and their precursor entities – the Environmental Mining Council of BC and the Mining Caucus of the Canadian Environmental Network came about. This part describes the “lessons learned” and the “research and campaign strategies…needed to get our governments to hold mining companies accountable.”

This book is essential reading. Period.

Maggie Paquet was an original member of the Environmental Mining Council of BC, a founding member of the Canadian Environmental Network’s Mining Caucus, a participant in a number of government consultations, and more recently, a director of CoalWatch, which helped to defeat the Raven coal mine slated to be developed in BC’s Comox Valley.


Cover image: Watershed Sentinel Dec-Jan 2019 | Deep TimeThis article appears in our December 2019-January 2020 issue.

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